Tolstoy’s Hadji Murat

In Tolstoy’s novella he writes about the rebel Hadji Murat, who becomes distrusted by both his Chechens and the Russians he used to fight against. Murat’s journey is written very much as a tragic one by Tolstoy. After being cast out by his commander, Shamil, he seeks refuge with close friends. Murat is taken in by Prince Semyon Vorontsov and sided with the Russians. However, soon after a series of unfortunate events occur for Murat, such as, a rival prince, the Tsar’s ordered attack on the mountaineers, and Murat’s family being held captive. Moreover, than just being about a historical figure, this novella is a commentary on man and their desires and flaws.

Discussion Questions

Why does Tolstoy spend so much time discussing the field and the thistle? What connections does this moment share with the main plot? 

Tolstoy has a lot of descriptions about the figures, especially their eyes. Why do you think he focuses so much on eyes, and what do some of the descriptions of eyes say about the figures?

Why is Tolstoy so drawn to the figure of Hadji Murat? 

On the bottom of page 26 and following on page 27  Poltoratsky meets Murat, what is significant about this moment? What stands out to you?  

Is Murat a tragic hero or just a tragic figure? Why? 

Tolstoy used the memoir of Vladimir Alexeevich Poltoratsky when writing this novella, with this in mind how does Tolstoy write the commander? 

Although based on true figures and events, the amount of suspense makes the novella seem completely fantastical. How does Tolstoy build suspense and what parts of the story stand out as particularly suspenseful? 

2 Replies to “Tolstoy’s Hadji Murat”

  1. In regards to the first question, I had similar thoughts. I think Tolstoy spends some time speaking of the fields because it relates to the second question about the eyes. On page four, Tolstoy states “‘What a destructive, cruel being man is, how many living beings and plants he annihilates to maintain his own life,’ I thought involuntarily looking for something alive amidst this dead, black field.” This to me is important because Tolstoy also describes the 15 year old sons eyes as “shining eyes, black as ripe currants” (Tolstoy , 6). To me, it seems as though black for Tolstoy is the color of lifelessness and evil. As in black for a dead and infertile field, and black eyes for the boy possibly being in fear of Hadji Murat.

  2. To answer your fourth question, I believe that this is a very significant part of the book. Tolstoy’s description of the first time Poltoratsky and Hadji Murat adds to Hadji Murat’s character as a tragic hero. While Hadji Murat surrenders himself to Poltoratsky and the Russian soldiers, he is described to come in on a white-maned horse with gold inlaid-arms (Tolstoy 26). This description makes Hadji Murat appear as a God-like figure. However, Tolstoy then humanizes this God-like figure through the smile that he gives back to Poltoratsky, “Hadji Murat answered his smile with a smile, and that smile struck Poltoratsky by its childlike good nature. Poltoratsky had never expected this fearsome mountaineer to be like that” (Tolstoy 26-27). Tolstoy wants us to envision Hadji Murat like Poltoratsky: skeptical at first, but awe-inspired and comfortable as we get to know him. Due to this, I believe Hadji Murat is a tragic hero.

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